What Is Your Joy?

My friend Brian called from Oregon this morning. He wanted to thank me for the Valentine card I mailed last week. As we were catching up on the details of the lives and loves of one another, he made a suggestion.

We talked about the toxic workplace in which we met, and about those who are choosing to leave for their own mental health… and of course, celebrating our own choices to leave. For each of us, leaving was one of the best things we’ve done for ourselves.

As I shared with him the workshops that I am creating to share a sense of mindful manifestation with others, he exclaimed, “You make such a difference in the lives of those who know you. You should share my story! I’ll never forget what you asked me that night that we had dinner together, while my organs were literally shutting down. You said, “Brian, What is your joy?” That one question changed everything!”

I have told this story before, in an article that I wrote for Elephant Journal, and in another blog post called More than Grateful. Frankly, Brian has no idea how significant his story is and how often I share it, but I’ll share a brief version here, as well.

Brian was one of the first people I met in the company I went to work for after being liberated from my long-time workplace in 2017. It was love at first sight – you know, the way you meet someone and you instantly feel you’d like to know them better? Well, we had little opportunity to do so, since he would be working remotely and only coming to town periodically. But as fate would have it, we managed to find time to make a connection.

Of the many executives I worked with, he was the only one who seemed to be heart-centered. Sharing a meal with him during his visits was the one thing work related to which I looked forward. We loved our time so much that we continued meeting for dinner even after I left the company that October.

It was at dinner in February that he shared with me his diagnosis and prognosis. He had prostate cancer that had metastasized in his bones. That was when I looked deep into his eyes, refusing to react with tears or pity, and asked, “Brian, what is your joy?”

It was not lost on me that this sweet man had been given a deadline, and here he was risking his health by getting on an airplane each month to come into a workplace who obviously didn’t care for his well being. Exposing an immunosuppressed sacred being to the hazards of viral and bacterial boxes of in-flight holding is criminal.

His immediate reply to my query was, “Melissa, no one has ever asked me that before.” He promised to go home and think about it. It turned out that he flew home early, and went right into the hospital. An experimental medication his oncologist was giving him had begun to shut down his organs.

I almost lost my dear friend before he was able to answer this all important question. If that alternate reality had come to pass, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I never would have understood the magnitude of my great loss. In as many ways as I have blessed his life and brought about a more mindful existence… he has done the same for me.

Brian’s courage to share his truth with me that day brought forth that morsel of wisdom that came through me. Ask the question, to help someone find their own solution.

His reply came to me on Valentine’s Day, ten days after I posed the question. He wrote to me: ” My joy: spending as much time with Derek as possible.” It was then that he told me he had been in the hospital for a week after returning home, but I was not yet aware of the close call he survived.

It has been a year since Brian made this declaration, and it has been three months since he began pursuing his JOY full time. When the cancer started spreading again in September, I convinced him to start working on an exit strategy, so that every moment of the time he has left can be dedicated to soul fulfillment.

He shared today that his last check up was pretty good. He feels good, and he is filling his days with more joy and less stress. This makes my heart so happy.

As for me, my joy is getting to connect deeply with others. That kind of surface connection just won’t do. I want to know what makes your heart happy. I want to know what makes your soul sing. I want to know… if you were to be given a terminal diagnosis tomorrow (heaven forbid), how you would choose to spend the rest of your days.

I was blessed to be able to take an early retirement of sorts, so that I can be present with the extra care that my parents need at this time in their lives. But as all caregivers should, I feel it necessary to find more balance in my life. Knowing that they are safe and well is gratifying, but there are days that are more difficult than others, and I need to have something that fills my needs while I am filling theirs.

The workshops that I am facilitating is a part of that plan. In fact, my next workshop is dedicated to finding just that. As the wheel of the year turns, and we greet the growing daylight in the northern hemisphere, we will celebrate the Spring Equinox. Twice a year, day and night are equal, and we are reminded that our needs are not unlike those of Mother Earth.

At my second workshop on March 30, Persephone Rises – and we will be Finding Balance at the Equinox. Just the thought of it makes my heart push through dark, moist soil toward the expansion of the sun. We shall throw off our cloaks of winter and don the brilliance of springtime.

The intentions that we developed in February should be starting to take root, and it is up to us to ensure their freedom to grow.

I know that for me, finding balance means ensuring that I am creating ample opportunity to refill and recharge. Spending time with those I care about brings me joy, as does listening to live music – so I’ll be having more of that. Also, I’ve dedicated to doing one of these workshops every 8 weeks or so for the year, and even the planning brings me joy. Honoring Persephone as she emerges from the underworld makes me squeal with delight! But then… there will be the time spent with others who are willing and eager to seek something deeper for themselves and to become the joyful gardeners of their own lives. More than anything, I love to be witness to the growing glow of others.

So, tell me dear ones… What is your joy? I really want to know.

May the words in this graphic that I designed be a blessing upon all of your days. Thank you for walking this path with me. Your presence is also my joy.

Elephant Parade

If anyone has noticed my limited connectedness since early October, it is because I gifted myself with an investment in learning. It happened at the behest of synchronicity, which I consider to be the voice of my internal guidance system. Within one week it was suggested by two unrelated friends that I should consider writing for Elephant Journal… the second recommendation came with a link for Elephant Academy. The Academy is a quarterly online school for writing, editing, and social media. I didn’t hesitate to apply when I received the link. It was as if I was on autopilot.

I confess that I argued with myself about the cost, being newly retired and exploring the possibility of living simply enough to avoid returning to work. Ultimately, I decided that personal development and spiritual enrichment is worthy of every penny spent. Also, I figured I might meet some lovely people of like-mind.

I definitely hit the jackpot on that last expectation. I love it when hope is rewarded! Don’t you?

The first several weeks included a writing assignment that could be published in Elephant Journal. The gift of this process was the opportunity to receive guidance and feedback from editors. Either they would accept your work and make it elephant-ready, or they would provide two rounds of support, to help you get it there.

What I hadn’t counted on was that my 81 year old father would end up hospitalized after a fall, and spend the next month in rehab. Talk about synchronicity. Every ‘voice’ I followed this year led me somewhere wonderful… including the guidance that led me to a financial planner who enlightened me on 72T (detailed in a previous post). This retirement income has enabled me to be fully present for my parents during difficult days. If I had to work a full time job as well, the stress would have been overwhelming. I do not take for granted this great blessing.

My first article was published, and my last (thesis) article was published, but with daily visits to rehab, I chose not to spend more time on the articles that required editing. Perhaps they weren’t meant to be seen. One of them was extremely vulnerable, and I might just be relieved that it didn’t fly. Ha!

I feel that I have learned a great deal during my weeks in Elephant Academy, but far more valuable to me has been the relationships birthed and nurtured. The nature of writing for a journal dedicated to mindfulness leads to a kind of vulnerability and openness that one does not often find in community.

When we have the courage to be authentic with one another, we have no choice but to fall in love, just a little. It’s like exposing your fears and flaws to a room full of people who are willing to look you in the eye and say, “We see you. We accept you. You are one of us, now.”

The courage to be vulnerable is a gift to everyone in your orbit. Don’t you know that we love to see you twirl? We are points of light surrounding the globe, and we shine more brightly for the illumination we bring to one another.

And so, for the third time in my life, I feel as if I have found my people… my Trunk Tribe.

It may not be a journey for everyone, but for those who choose to accept the challenge – be it to strengthen your writing, find your voice, or learn more about navigating the world of social media, I have a feeling that falling in love will be in the cards. The people one meets will be extraordinary. It will feel like money well-spent.

If you are interested in reading what my classmates and editors helped me bring to birth on Elephant Journal, I will post links below. And should you choose to look around while you are there, I guarantee you will be moved by the strength and courage of the other writers in this beloved community.

Thank you for walking this path with me. You are the light that guides my way on.

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2018/10/a-samhain-practice-to-fill-you-as-the-nights-grow-long/

https://www.elephantjournal.com/now/walking-the-labyrinth-a-tool-for-healing-a-metaphor-for-life/

https://www.elephantjournal.com/2018/12/when-death-came-to-dinner-taught-me-how-to-live/

trunktribe2

[Photo from Gregory Colbert’s Ashes and Snow Exhibit]